Monday, May 11, 2009
Runners can learn a lot from swimmers! I know its sounds ridiculous, but swimmers understand the importance of technique drills. Conversely, runners tend to work with what god gave em. Swimmers know good stroke form will trump hours of training. You can run from almost anywhere. Just lace up and step out the front door. Pool time has to be planned. A pool is often shared by many groups. It's a scarce resource.
Swimmers need to make good use of their limited time. To maximize what they can accomplish, they drill, drill, drill. A typical swim coach will incorporate stroke drills in nearly every workout. Swimmers understand that drilling is important because it trains the nervous system and muscles to be most efficient. It's purpose is to challenge the imprinted memories. By drilling you reinforce good technique and thus eliminate bad habits.
Compulsion of good form is built into the sport of competitive swimming. Often at a swim meet will have not one but several stroke judges who are monitoring a single event. A swimmer knows, one false stroke and your disqualified. Running's not like that. A swimmer also knows how much faster you can be if you have flawless technique. Conversely, you don't have to be pretty and there is nobody watching your stride at the local 5k. Plus everyone knows how to run already, right? WRONG!
If you have bad form, you will have to work a heck of a lot harder than a more efficient runner. It's not so much the resistance of the atmosphere, albiet air is much less dense than water, that slows you but more it's the resistance you have that's internal to your body. Muscles are firing in opposition. You are bending at the waist. You are striking with your heel. Some are born running better than others. I have friends who run an awful lot of miles who can not beat others with efficient running form. Granted, genetics does play a role. Factors from the amount of fast twitch vs slow twitch muscle fiber to the length and symmetry of the leg will play a part in your overall ability to get to the finish line. But when it comes to making performance gains, regardless of where you are starting from you have basically two options. Get more fit or become more efficient. Consider how busy you are with all the non-running activities in your life. Your time is limited. Make the most of your time to train. Be the best you possibly can. Knock back a few strides or do some bounding drills. There are dozens of drills for runners to practice. Most take a few minutes. The gains can potentially make much more improvement than hours of running to improve fitness.
One of the best things you can do to train your brain and body to run more efficiently is to run barefoot. Listen to the pain receptors and make adjustments to your gate and foot strike. Now if you have spent most of your years in shoes I caution you to go slowly. You might even need to spend a couple of months just walking around barefoot before your feet are strong enough to run. The sensory feedback can also be quite overwhelming. Don't panic, your feet are very tough. After a few minutes you will adjust to all the sensations. It really quite a rush!
Running Central sells an amazing DVD with core strengthening exercises and drills to improve performance. Consider cutting a few miles from your schedule to make time for them and you might surprise yourself! Drill baby drill!